Round 23 this weekend and it certainly whets the appetite for the Swiss Cup action to come in midweek.
Basel travel to the Pontaise to play Lausanne with their title challenge hanging by a thread while Young Boys will be eyeing up three points when struggling Sion travel to the Stade de Suisse. Dropped points for FCB and a win for the league leaders would surely spell the end for Basel’s dominance in Switzerland.
Elsewhere, the 249th Zurich derby takes place on Sunday with the landmark 250th set to take place on Wednesday in the semi-final of the Swiss Cup. Grasshoppers sit five points behind their rivals in the league and while a victory would help close that gap, both sides would probably favour the cup victory rather than a win on Sunday.
St. Gallen host Lugano with both sides scrapping for the European places at kybunpark while Luzern and Thun try to alleviate any lingering relegation worries at the swissporarena.
As usual, a full calendar takes place in the Challenge League with Neuchatel Xamax looking to tighten their grip further on top spot in the second tier.
FC Zurich and Grasshoppers meet once again in one of the oldest derbies in world football. It doesn’t quite capture an audience like the Old Firm, Milan, Rome or the El Clasico but for the city of Zurich, this one is every bit important. It was a game that was sorely missed during Zurich’s one-year absence after relegation and once that has certainly returned with a bang this season.
Zurich won the first encounter this season by a 2-0 scoreline but GCZ exacted revenge in impressive fashion with their 4-0 victory in October. With neither side in great form, a repeat of those comfortable scorelines is unlikely and provides an unpredictable backdrop for this edition of the derby. Both sides have eyes firmly placed on European football next season. A win for FCZ can see them pull away from their rivals quite considerably but a win for Grasshoppers pulls their neighbours into touching distance.
Grasshoppers, technically the “home” side in this contest, have suffered a worrying dip in form since November They have just one win from seven games and have lost four of those games without scoring a goal. Their only victory came on the return from the break to Sion and the home defeat to Luzern followed by last weekend’s away loss at Lugano will have the alarm bells ringing after a fruitful first half of the season under Murat Yakin.
Zurich aren’t sitting too pretty either in the form table but will be optimistic after picking up four points from their last two games. A turnaround vs. St Gallen secured Zurich their first win in three games after three successive losses but they followed that up with last weekend’s home draw with Luzern. That result marked their third straight game without a win at the Letzigrund and they have now won only one of their last six following their 4-0 defeat to Grasshoppers.
A victory in this game for either side would certainly provide a huge boost ahead of the cup game in midweek and greatly enhance European chances. It is sure to be compelling viewing at the Letzigrund on Sunday.
PRESSURE ON IN TITLE RACE…
FC Basel are now in a real pressure situation. Their awful home loss to St. Gallen last weekend allowed Young Boys to extend the gap at the top of the table which has jumped from two points to eight points in the space of three weeks. Every game is now a must-win for Basel in the league while they hope that Young Boys will slip up somewhere along the way to allow them back into the title race. It is an unfamiliar situation for Basel and one they’d like to rectify quick.
Unfortunately for FCB, it doesn’t seem that way. Their early season form is rearing it’s ugly head once again and a tricky trip to the Pontaise to play Lausanne will do little to ease the nerves. Basel do tend to perform better on the road though, unbeaten in their last seven and having already posted a 4-1 victory over Lausanne back in December. The fixture at St. Jakob-Park ended in victory for Lausanne though so there is no guarantee, especially with Basel in their current state, that the result will be quite so comfortable on Saturday.
Lausanne though are hardly in good form themselves having lost three in a row since the return from the winter break. Much was expected after some impressive January signings but it has yet to materialize for LS. That being said, a victory overBasel would go a long way to turning those fortunes around. If they do, they’ll have not only boosted their confidence but made another huge dent in Basel’s faltering title challenge.
Young Boys will be hoping that is the case. They will be licking their chops at the prospect of Sion turning up in Bern on Saturday. Six wins from their last seven in the league, a strong home record and opponents who are bottom of the league. YB have developed a new ruthless side this season and it was fully on display last weekend at home to Thun, who had tripped YB up twice already this season, and they really should have no problems disposing of Sion. It seems likely that the eight point gap will remain or be extended by Round 24.
Sion recorded a much needed win after winning just one of their previous thirteen games. It was a shocking record but morale will be boosted at the Tourbillon. They are within touching distance of those above them again after there was a real threat of them being cut adrift at the bottom, however, a trip to the Stade de Suisse probably wasn’t their ideal destination for this weekend. Building on their win looks unlikely but a positive performance would set Sion up nicely for crucial games to come in the next few weeks.
BATTLE FOR EUROPE..
Only seven points separate FC Thun in ninth from the final European spot and Lugano in fourth. The race for the European places this season really is wide open and Round 23 throws together some more matches that will have an influence on the side of things in the Swiss Super League. The derby in Zurich has already been mentioned but Lugano, St. Gallen and probably Luzern have realistic ambitions with Thun and Lausanne with slight hope despite neither showing sparkling form.
Luzern host Thun at the swissporarena buoyed by their two successful weekends in Zurich over the last two weeks. Their 2-1 win over Grasshoppers followed by a 1-1 draw with Zurich has them back in contention for Europe and host an FC Thun side who are licking their wounds after two straight defeats, albeit to Basel and Young Boys. Luzern can probably banish any relegation fears with their seven point lead over Sion but Thun only hold a four point advantage and will be looking over their shoulder. Quite unique that both the top half of the table and relegation are on the mind.
Luzern have won five of their last six at home, losing only to Young Boys, but they can’t keep the goals out having conceded in their last eight consecutive matches as hosts. It is a statistic that has led to many dropped points this season and with Thun having scored in five of their last six away trips, they’ll fancy their chances of netting again in Luzern. It is often hard to predict these games with little between the sides but there should be plenty of goals at least.
Elsewhere, St. Gallen welcome Lugano with a victory for the home side allowing them to leapfrog their opponents into fourth. FCSG have been in pretty abject form though and possess the second worst-defence in the league. That being said, after two defeats after the winter break, they stunned Basel at St. Jakob-Park last weekend. It was a performance the fans would love to see more of, they were simply better and hungrier than Basel and picked their moments to finish off the champions with accuracy. It is vitally important that they continue to do this against the teams around them and not just those at the summit.
Lugano are the form team at the moment. They, like Young Boys, have won their last four in a row but they have won them without conceding a single goal. Three of those matches have been won 1-0. It is mightily impressive from a side now showing a real steel in defence and are rightfully among the top four. It won’t be easy for St. Gallen to break them down. Lugano, unbeaten in their last five on the road, also won at kybunpark in November so this will be a very tricky contest for the home side.
THE CHALLENGE LEAGUE..
Friday night begins with what was a potentially huge match for Wohlen reduced to something much less so. Their demotion from the Challenge League means a match they may have had to win to keep their heads above water doesn’t really matter. Rapperswil are the visitors though and they’ll be hoping to continue their fine debut season with a win to consolidate their place in the top five.
Servette are in action on Saturday at home to Aarau and after the 1-1 draw with Neuchatel last Monday, a pick-me-up is needed in Geneva. A victory would at least close the gap to Neuchatel to eight points and give some hope with the league leaders not in action until Monday. Their visit to struggling Chiasso may prove to be a potential banana skin.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Schaffhausen host FC Wil. FCS have suffered since the departure of Murat Yakin and the once promotion candidates are way off the pace in third. Their home form has also taken a dip with three defeats in their last five, although they were issued by both Servette and Neuchatel. FC Wil are much improved, perhaps because any relegation fears extinguished by the SFL decision. They are unbeaten in four of their last five but Schaffhausen were the last team to beat them in early December.
The only other BCL game is Winterthur vs. Vaduz on Sunday. Vaduz were emphatic winners over Wohlen and have lost just once in their last nine games. Winterthur on the other hand have won just twice in their last fifteen. Vaduz won’t find it easy at the Schutzenwiese having only eked out a 1-0 win in October and having drawn in Liechtenstein in August.